While in graduate school I wrote an essay titled “The Invisibility of Being Visible: the Otherness of Fat.” The subject—the rise of the fat heroine in contemporary literary texts, such as Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. I submitted the essay to a national conference and flew to Atlanta to present it. I remember the reaction of one of my colleagues upon hearing me read the essay: “She’s got guts.”
That essay, though, didn’t have an overt personal element to it. I lacked the strength to share my most vulnerable thoughts about my size, about my fat—the very element people first notice ironically renders me invisible. It’s odd I suppose to think of someone who is morbidly obese being invisible, but it was true then and it’s true now.
I never had many friends in high school or in junior high. I had a few in elementary school, before the obesity started. If I wanted to do something like go to the mall I’d normally end up going alone, and that never ended well. One time I remember the horrors of the catcalls I’d hear while walking around the mall and people yelling at me “call Richard Simmons.” I wanted to slink away in shame, after going to See’s or Mrs Fields naturally. Those people saw me. They didn’t see my fat. And I needed in those moments to assuage my pain, wipe away my tears, and I needed sugary or fatty foods to do that. That’s the only way I could survive.
As a junior in high school my PE teacher Judy Be***S wanted to help me lose weight, so she had me run laps two days a week instead of playing tennis or other sports with my peers. I felt the stench of humiliation as I walked around the campus instead of having fun. People saw me as separate, as the other. “Why is this girl walking laps when the other kids are in PE?” I could see these thoughts in their expressions.
I learned over time where I could hide instead of walking around the campus. Sometimes the teacher would ask someone to walk with me for company, but that made me feel so much more ostracized. I felt humiliated in those moments. When I think about it now I feel such sadness. I wish she had known better. I wish she could have understood the damage she was causing. In hindsight I can see she thought her actions would be helpful, but, in reality they caused much more harm. She didn’t see me. She saw the fat that had to be gotten rid of.
I never went to the prom. No one ever asked me. I am certain my weight was the mitigating factor. I could feel everyone’s pity. They knew. Fat girls were ostracized. I was ostracized, unattractive. Only pretty girls, in gorgeous dressed with well-groomed hair and make-up went to prom. Back then most stores didn’t carry pretty clothes for fat people. They only sold muumuus or other hideous clothing items. I would have given almost anything to be able to wear a pretty dress, to feel beautiful for just a moment.
People just saw the fat. That’s what the invisibility of being visible means. People see fat. They don’t see the person. And when they see fat they display pity.
MY FIRST JOB
I remember being sixteen and going for my first job interview as a greeter for a local mall. The day I went in for the interview I drove to the mall with butterflies in my stomach. I’d dressed my best and even put on light make-up. I walked into the mall with a feeling of nervous excitement and then, and then she saw me. I can still see the look of disgust and shock on the interviewer’s face as the morbidly obese teenager approached her. I knew in that moment that I wouldn’t get the job, but she played along, interviewing me and giving me a personality test. She looked even more aghast that I scored higher than anyone had before. She stumbled over her words telling me that.
I walked away from that interview knowing and feeling the inevitable. I drove home that day in a saddened state of despair. How could I explain my pain to anyone? I couldn’t even explain it to myself. I’m sure I ate over it. Food understands me and makes me feel better. She saw my fat. She didn’t see me. She couldn’t even see me when the results of that personality test told her I existed. Sure enough I didn’t get that job.
PEOPLE DON’T SEE FAT PEOPLE. THEY SEE FAT.
I also see myself through the lens of fat, through the lens of the others. At some point I decided I’d wear bright and colorful clothes because they brought me attention, and I craved positive attention. One time I found the most beautiful lime green gauze skirt, and I bought it even though it happened to be a bit see-through. It made me happy, and it brought me attention; although the attention didn’t always happen to be positive. People loved to tell me they could see my underwear through the skirt, but you know what? I didn’t care because I knew they wouldn’t say that to a skinny person. If a thin person wears a see-through item of clothing people are more likely and willing to admire the body beneath the material. The thinness we are supposed to aspire to. The thinness society says gives us value.
Fat doesn’t provide value in the eyes of others. I’m not lying. I’m giving you empirical evidence.
Doctors only see fat too, most of them anyways. I’ve had doctors say to me the minute they see me “You need to lose weight.” They don’t ask why I’m there. They don’t ask about me. They take one look at me and see the fat. One time, at the age of 12, a doctor wanted to put me on a 500 calorie a day diet. TWELVE YEARS OLD AND A 500 CALORIE A DAY DIET. Even then I knew enough to know that was nuts. The irony of it all—he was morbidly obese. Maybe he wanted to protect me from the fate that befell him but his insanity backfired.
LOVE & FOOD
I never really wanted food. I really only wanted love. I wanted to see and be seen. If you’re reading this I don’t want your pity. But I’d like you to understand what happens to someone when the only thing the world sees is the outer shell.
THE INVISIBILITY OF BEING VISIBLE
For so much of my life I was invisible by virtue of my visibility. Even now sometimes I feel that way. I realized after a meditation the other day that I no longer wanted to be defined by my weight, not by me and not by anybody else. I don’t want to live my life thinking every choice has to be about weight loss. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t plan on delving into oreos or buckets of buttercream frosting.
I want my life to be about more than food. The Invisibility of Being Visible is about me finding a way to become visible to myself. It doesn’t matter what or how other people see me. It matters how I see myself. And that my friends is a daily battle. Hard fought one second at a time.
I will become visible thought self-love. Visible to myself. Last night I cooked a meal; I played with food in a fun way. It was a healthy meal. But I didn’t count the calories. I ate until the point before where I was full. Then I went and meditated. Another form of self-love. A place where for a few precious moments I can stop the monkey mind and see myself through the lens of non-judgment. The only lens that matters. The lens that reflects true visibility.
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